One night, during that first year with my son Charlie, I made a
discovery that revealed to me the deep and primal urges in the breastfeeding
child, in any child, in any human. This discovery unveiled the tremendous
gifts that I was exchanging with my child, the indisputable psychological
and somatic benefits of our nursing-work, and the gentle mystery
of being both human and mammal.
Breastfeeding Charlie has never been terribly hard, for him or
for me. In the beginning days, there was that surprise that someone
was actually *eating* from me. My doula brushed aside any concern
that my large nipple wouldn't fit into his tiny baby bird mouth.
Charlie was determined to practice his nursing--20 and 22 hours
a day. It is his work, and he is very good at it.
As it turned out, learning to delatch him became my biggest breastfeeding
challenge. Because he would sleep for hours, nipple in mouth, latched
on tight as a tick, I suffered from back pain and sleep loss, despite
a trusty pillow wedged against my back. Then, an LLL leader told
me about using my index and middle finger to "fool" him into thinking
the nipple was still there. It's a neat trick, requiring a little
practice. With the index finger, you relax the suction and gently
ease the nipple out of the relaxed, sleeping mouth. As it's coming
out, you put your middle finger under their chin to keep some of
the comforting suction and pressure "in place."
This trick may sound silly and too simple, but it worked for Charlie.
Occasionally, he would wake just enough to notice the nipple's absence
and would root around to slurp it back in. With practice, I learned
to nurse him down, delatch him and then sneak away to shower, write,
eat. He never let me get too far away in the early days, but at
six months, he would sleep for two or three hours without requiring
my nipple in his mouth.
One night, though, I didn't rush away from him. I suppose I was
a little tired and enjoyed the quiet, dark bedroom, the soft bed,
the sleeping baby. I delatched him and lazily held my index finger
on my nipple for a moment or two. Waiting for his deep sleep before
I moved away, I suddenly felt it -- The Reason. Too awed to shout
"Eureka," I had indeed found the answer to a profound mystery.
I could feel my heartbeat through the end of my nipple. Let me
repeat that. My heartbeat. Through the end of my nipple. (If you
are a woman, take a moment to see what I mean.)
The recollections of my pregnancy came flooding back. I remembered
the first glimpse of the four-chambered, pulsating speck on the
ultrasound, and later, the little umbilicus pumping blood so wonderfully.
I recalled hearing his heartbeat overtake mine through the Doptone
at the midwife's -- our two hearts synchronizing, my body beautifully,
efficiently sustaining him.
That night, as I lay on the bed listening to him sleep, holding
on to my nipple still, I thought that our heart connection continues
on the outside as well. He is separate from me only because someone
cut that cord. When he emerged from my body, he was immediately
placed close to my heart. It seems completely natural that he wants
to be latched on all day, that he wants that warm, living, wonderful
nipple in his mouth.
As a mammal, that nipple is his direct connection to life-sustaining
food. As a human, it is his direct connection to the Source of Life
that courses between human hearts and minds, that feeling of joy
and peace and love that feeds our will to live.
Lying there in the twilight of the bedroom, I wished for a world
full of babies and adults like Charlie, who could be both mammal
and human. If only we could all nuzzle up to that pulse of life,
and drink our fill before wandering out into the world. I mused,
there in the dark, if we all were breastfed as long as we needed,
and if we all had that loving, peaceful unifying experience deeply
written in our somatic selves, to draw upon in crisis, when we needed
reserve strength, when we needed love. Eventually, I got up and
decided to write what has become these words. I shall never forget
that moment, perhaps my greatest lesson as a nursing mother and
I am profoundly grateful that if I can give Charlie little else,
I can give him this most important opportunity--to be both human
and mammal and to nurse from his mother's body. He has given me
countless opportunities, such as this one, to be a radical, to be
an advocate for progressive change. But there really is no easier
protest, no finer protection against aggression, war, injustice
and disease than simply to offer our children the gentle murmur
of our voice, the soothing touch of skin, the life-pulse of the
nipple, and the warm and perfect nutrition of our milk.
Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D., is mother to Charlie, now an active nursing
toddler of 2.25 years. She works at home as a freelance writer and
activist, a workshop leader, and consultant. He is alternately a
lion, a cow, and a pig, and works very hard at nursing ("my nanny")
and growing. Their home page is Lizard Lodge,
Human and Mammal
© Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D. 1998.
by Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D.